Sunday, April 01, 2007

If you’re already confused about global warming, then ponder this – “To begin to understand climate change, it needs to be emphasised that we are actually in the middle of an ice age. We are in a warm phase of that ice age but we are definitely in an ice age. And what is clear is that we can expect to go back towards a period of deep cooling again, possibly within the next 1,000 years”. Here’s the full article.

And here’s the latest 3-year compilation of posts, this time on the subject of SMOKING. The number of comments reflects the introduction of new laws in 2006. You can make up your own mind as to what effect these have had . . .


There is a great deal of incredulity in Spain at the banning of smoking in public places in Ireland. What I find incredible is the reported statistic that only 34% of Spaniards smoke. If so, they certainly make up for the 66% who don’t.

Another survey told us what a quick glance into any bar would, i. e. that, in the 20-40 age group, there are now more women smoking than men. It’s apparently considered sophisticated to kill yourself, whilst impregnating your hair and clothes with the noxious odour of nicotine. Call me old-fashioned, but I can think of better ways to show how independent you are than becoming totally dependent.

I wrote yesterday that my favourite café had a ‘non-smoking zone’. As you will all have appreciated, this should have been ‘no-smoking’. Zones, by and large, neither smoke nor refrain from it. Which reminds me, the government here has today announced an intention to ban smoking in ‘closed places’. This should be interesting.


The government has announced its latest brave social reform. As of next January, it will – in theory, at least - be difficult to smoke in public in Spain. And tobacconists selling cigarettes to anyone under 18 will face a fine of 10,000 euros. As with motoring offences, it’s a complicated law and it will surely provide a real test for the legendary ability of the Spanish to ignore any rule which is personally inconvenient.

One of the problems – admittedly not a big one – of living in a society where people are amiable and love to talk is that conversations can go on for rather longer than you’d want. I asked the head waiter in my regular café this morning about the implications of the imminent anti-smoking law. Twenty minutes later – and with him giving his considered view for at least the third time – I was more than keen for him to turn his attentions to another customer. If he'd gone on much longer, I'd have taken up smoking.

Within a couple of weeks, Spain will have the most draconian anti-smoking law in Europe, if not the world. And this in a country with close to the highest consumption of tobacco in Europe. Indeed, the penalties are so harsh, questions have naturally been raised as to whether the law is enforceable. This was, anyway, always going to be a problem in a country where laws tend to be ignored if they are personally inconvenient. My hope is that my regular café will soon become a far more salubrious place but I’m gearing up for disappointment.

Well, 77% of Spaniards support the new anti-smoking law; but 70% of them don’t believe it will be implemented. So it seems my concerns are widely shared. Vamos a ver. I hope we’re wrong. I’m tired of eating smoked tapas dishes.

From Sunday, we’ll have the toughest anti-smoking law in Europe. As with all comprehensive laws, there are questions about its application. Given the prevalence of smoking in Spain – where an astonishing 70% of adults claim they never smoke! – there’s widespread concern about where lighting-up will still be permitted. Here are some of places cited in the media as having been the subject of queries to the relevant ministry:-

A funeral home - Answer: No, the living merit some consideration even if the corpse doesn’t

The cabin of a lorry you are driving – Yes, you can smoke.

The balcony of your office - It depends

A prostitute’s room in a brothel - Yes, it’s private

The cubicle of sex shop - No, it’s a public place

A telepizza outlet – Yes, it’s not really a restaurant

A firework factory – Err, No.


Spain’s draconian anti-smoking law came into effect today and, needless to say, the first café/bar I went into at lunchtime had ignored the requirement to put a notice on the door advising whether it was a Smoking or No-smoking establishment. A friend I met there complained that someone had earlier made a fuss about this but had been dismissed with the comment that it was early days and that, anyway, there was a [small] sign below the TV up in the corner.

The press reported today that 90% of the small cafés, bars and restaurants which were given the choice have opted to be Smoking, rather than No-Smoking, establishments. As I said yesterday, larger places must, by September, provide separate [air-extracted] facilities for smokers, whether they want to or not. The Ministry of Health says they’re surprised and disappointed at this initial situation and hope commercial sense will effect a change, as and when customers start avoiding the smoke-ridden places in their millions. Vamos a ver. Meanwhile, I can understand them being disappointed but it would astonish me if they really were surprised. Unless they feared 100%.

It seems the regions have a good deal of latitude as to the implementation of the anti-smoking. So it is, for example, that Valencia hasn’t yet got round to establishing a team of inspectors to check whether or not the bars and offices are complying. And, strange to relate, the tobacco companies launched a host of cheap brands just before the introduction of the measure. Packets of 20 can be as little as €1.20. Ideal for teenagers and students, they say.

A reader has queried that the Spanish anti-smoking law is the toughest in Europe. Rightly, he points out that only in Spain will the owners of [‘small’] bars and restaurants be allowed to decide whether they’ll be Smoking or No-Smoking establishments. He’s right, of course, but I think the oft-repeated comment re the hardness of the Spanish law relates to the penalties. These escalate rapidly for serial offences, provided there’s the will to enforce them, of course. For the record, I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life and share our friend’s view that it’s at least unpleasant to drink or eat in most Spanish bars and restaurants. Happily, my own favourite café/bar is more than 100m2 in size so will have to close off the smokers by end August. Would they would do this before then but this, I suspect, is asking too much. And I also hope the few non-smoking places flourish way beyond expectation. Against all that, the libertarian in me regrets that the signs on the doors of Smoking establishments remind smokers that smoking is seriously prejudicial to their health. This seems to me to be far more intrusively nanny-ish than putting it on the cigarette packets. And, besides, can any smoker really be unaware of this now?

I can finally report I’ve found a small No Smoking café/bar in Pontevedra. In other words, one where the owner could choose the status and elected for clear air. Strangely, though, this is a place which has always been rather empty when I’ve walked past. So I suspect the owner’s decision is actually a last-ditch commercial strategy. Time will surely tell and I, for one, certainly hope its fortunes are now reversed, however cynical the motivation.

Spain has its first Smokers’ martyr. It’s a 34 year old male [of course] who sat next to the No Smoking sign in the cafeteria of a motorway services in Navarra, lit up and then adamantly refused to either stop or move to the Smoking area just a couple of metres away. When he refused to give his identity, he was arrested, taken down to the nick and fined 240 euros in a summary judgement. I suspect, though, most of this was for the more heinous offence in Spain of not producing an identity card.

And a friend has told me of an old chap who lit up in the only No Smoking bar of her village and, when told to desist, said he missed Franco as life was freer under him because you could smoke where you liked. Most of us find our broad mind and narrow waist eventually change places but I hope it’s at least another 30 years before I start equating freedom to think and say what I like with the freedom to slowly kill myself and irritate a lot of people along the way.

It’s been suggested the UK’s planned partial smoking ban will be contrary to the European Human Rights Act because of the exposure of staff to fumes where smoking’s still permitted. Here in Spain close to 100% of small cafés and bars will continue to allow smoking but I have some difficulty believing any suits will be initiated on this basis.

Faced with a backbench revolt, the British government has reversed its policy of allowing pubs to chose, as of next year, whether to be Smoking or No Smoking establishments. Instead they will impose a blanket ban, as in Ireland I think. Here in Spain, the first week of the new law is reported to have led to a 25% drop in the sales of tobacco and the withdrawal of 40,000 vending machines. But hell will freeze over, I suspect, before any sort of total ban is imposed here. As of now, the law appears to have made a real difference to offices and other work places but none whatsoever to cafés and bars.

Although the café/bar I patronise each day still allows smoking, I was clinging to the hope its size would ensure that – on the very last day of the period of grace – it would be converted into a No Smoking establishment. But the head barman tells me that ‘It all depends’. As the place is L-shaped, the owner is hoping to convince whomsoever [no one knows yet] that it’s really two places, each of less than 100 square metres, and so neither of them has to ban smoking. I am personally unimpressed by the logic of this but dismayed at the thought that, for one reason or another, others will take a different view. I’ve said I’ll take my custom elsewhere but they don’t believe me, possibly because there are no signs at all that anywhere else will offer relief to non-smokers.

A columnist in one of the local papers today opined that one of the worst aspects of the ‘antidemocratic’ new smoking law was that it encouraged non-smokers to crawl out of the woodwork and attack smokers for being [would you believe] insensitive, inconsiderate and even evil. Why didn’t non-smokers show such anger in the face of the failing education system, he asked. Surely, he added, there were things far worse for our health than passive smoking, such as being slaves to lying, cheating politicians. I’ve long felt that nicotine progressively destroys exactly that part of the brain which allows one to formulate arguments on the subject of smoking so I was grateful to him for further evidence of this. His photo, need I say, showed him puffing on a pipe.

I’ve finally found a café and a bar in Pontevedra which have decided to be No Smoking establishments. In fact, they’re virtually adjacent, just opposite a major school. Which surely explains their enlightened decision. The bad news is that at 1pm yesterday, the bar had but one customer. I wonder if they will hold out, supported by the kids that flood there during the long ‘midday’ break after 2pm and in the evenings to play on the pool tables. Meanwhile, I could just double their midday custom.

Most bars and cafés in Pontevedra now have two signs on the door – one telling you can smoke and another saying you can’t bring a dog in. I wonder, firstly, how many people have been killed by unhealthy dogs and, secondly, whether you could take a dog in if it had a cigarette in its mouth.

It must be difficult – other than on libertarian grounds – to justify being a director of a cigarette company. Especially if you work for Philip Morris in Spain. For, their reaction to the fall in sales caused by the anti-smoking law has been to reduce the price of their Marlborough brand, so as to make it more accessible to young people. Or, at least, that’s what’s assumed to be the logic of the strategy. The country’s already-suffering tobacconists are furious about the further reduction in their margins and have said they’re going to war against Philip Morris. Perhaps they will smoke each other to death.

Spain last night had the equivalent of the Oscars for its own cinema industry. The consensus in the press was that the ceremony was unprofessional, overlong and tediously boring. And these were the good reviews. In fact, the premier award – for the best film – was made at 2am, which gives you something of an insight into the Spanish timetable. And everybody smoked like chimneys, apparently. As did the spokesman at a press conference of the Galician Nationalist Party yesterday. He was, he said, merely showing solidarity with President Zapatero and the leader of the Catalan coalition, who apparently smoked all the way through the Constitution negotiations. But then I think I might even have taken up the obnoxious habit myself, if I’d had to take part in these.

The relevant health minister – disappointed that [at least] 90% of small bars and cafés still permit smoking – yesterday morning pronounced on TV that, if things were still the same by the end of the year, she would introduce compulsion. This caused outrage amongst the owners, who said they didn’t care if their customers smoked themselves to an early grave as long as they ran up bills en route. By the afternoon, a repentant minister had softened her line somewhat and was suggesting financial incentives would be introduced. This was rather more acceptable to the owners, who suddenly discovered they might just care what their customers did. Depending on the numbers.

During the first month of its operation, the new anti-smoking law led to more than 200 prosecutions, with Madrid leading the field on 70. At present, it’s difficult to know how these will proceed as none of the regional governments has yet fixed penalties for the various offences. Perhaps it’s going to be one of the new type of law described by President Zapatero in connection with the obligation to speak Catalan in Catalunia – ‘A law without a sanction for failure to observe it’. If this precedent is widely followed, it will at least make de jure much of what is already de facto in Spain. With parking offences, for example. At a single blow, Spain would immediately become a much more law-abiding country. Another example of the brilliant pragmatism with which the Spanish approach things in order to achieve a higher quality of life than anywhere else.

As if things weren’t already cloudy enough around the new anti-smoking law, the President of the government of the Madrid region has announced plans to soften the law there and to allow smoking in company cafeterias, on the terraces of bars and at weddings and [sic] Holy Communions. The minister of Health has threatened legal action, if the plans proceed. Needless to say, the antagonists are from different legal parties.

Under Spain’s attenuated anti-smoking legislation, small bars/cafés can choose to be Smoking or No-Smoking. As my elder daughter has pointed out, this is exactly the same situation as before the law came in. So, can anyone really be surprised nothing has changed except in the case of those very few bars serving predominantly young people, where business would be lost if they didn’t go No-Smoking? The real test of the law will come in September, at the end of the 8 months’ period of grace given to large bars/cafés to provide a No-Smoking area. I find it hard to be optimistic, especially in light of the manoeuvring going on in my favourite café to have itself treated as two small places rather than one large one. If they succeed, neither of the ‘two’ cafés will fall within the law. And I will move - regretfully - to the one place in town which has become No-Smoking. Next to a school, naturally.

My daughter in Madrid tells me of this sign in a bar there:- ‘You are allowed to smoke here and may God’s will determine the consequences.’ So, stuff your non-celestial neighbour.

Everyone knows you can’t please all the people all the time. But it is possible to displease all the people all the time. And so it is with Spain’s new anti-smoking law, now into its 3rd month. The aim, of course, was to effect a wholesale change in the smoking patterns of Spanish citizenry but here’s what a survey has just thrown up:-

- More than 90% of small bars still permit smoking

- 95% of people in discos ignore the law

- Only a very small minority of large bars have so far met the requirement of providing a no-smoking area

So, roll on September, which is the deadline for compliance by the large bars.

I resumed my search for a second bar/café in Pontevedra which bans smoking this evening. Eventually, I found one which said it had designated no-smoking areas but, as every table had an ashtray on it, I was a little incredulous. While reading the paper there, I came across an ad from a firm of Madrid lawyers which guarantees to find ways for a bar of any size to evade the law and avoid the cost of making the changes demanded by it. Which made encouraging reading. I am less and less confident that my regular café will become smoke-free by September, despite being above the trigger point of 100 square metres. Presumably the lawyers can make much of this disappear.

Under the anti-smoking law of early this year, there are provisions relating to both kiosks and vending machines. As a non-smoker, I’m not sure what. But I was told by Spanish friends today there’s a new system in operation to get round whatever it is the law now prohibits. You pay the chap in the kiosk and he presses a remote control which releases a packet of cigarettes into the tray of a machine which is technically decommissioned. Which reminds me – we’re now 4 months closer to the deadline of end August for conversion of the large café/bar where I go every day but, as yet, there’s no sign that anyone’s even thinking of implementing the requirement to close off a smoking area.

On the subject of smoking – the head waiter in my café now tells me they think they’ll avoid the need to provide a closed-off smoking area by excluding from the calculation of a ‘bar of more than 100m2’ the toilets, the kitchen, the area behind the counter and all the passageways. If you’re wondering what’s left, it’s the footprint of each table multiplied by the number of tables. It’s hard to believe this is what the legislators had in mind but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it not happening.

The Catalan government has become the latest to weaken the anti-smoking legislation introduced nationally in January. As in Madrid, Valencia and La Rioja, large bars will not, after all, be obliged to close off the space provided for smokers but will be allowed to get away with a much smaller investment in ‘improved ventilation’. I hold out less and less hope that my favourite bar/café will be no-smoking by the deadline of 1st September. I suppose this counts as greater democracy.

The Catalan government says it's been traduced; it insists it hasn't diluted the anti-smoking law and that owners of large bars have deliberately misinterpreted its comments. So it's not true that only bad news comes out of that region/Autonomous Community/national reality/real nationality/nation.

The first study done since the anti-smoking law of January this year shows that the level of air-borne nicotine has decreased only 10% in bars where there’s now an adjacent [but not closed-off] no-smoking area and has actually risen by 21% in pubs and discos where there isn’t. There’s speculation the latter development is a reflection of defiance among the young. How depressing.

Last night I watched the USA v. Italy match in Pontevedra’s only No Smoking bar. I had only one table in my line of vision and, although this was occupied by 4 young card players who cast ne’er a glance at the large screen, this was not too much of a distraction and I managed to enjoy the game. These young men were there again tonight but this time I had a second table in my line of vision and around this sat a young couple who preferred playing tongue-tag to watching the football. This was harder to take and so I left at half time. That’s the trouble with bloody non-smokers - they can’t be relied on to take an interest in things that really matter. Whoever would have thought I’d miss a crowd of raucous chain-smokers?

Seven weeks to go before the end of the period of grace but so far I’ve seen no sign of changes being made in my favourite café to ensure compliance with the anti-smoking legislation. I am decreasingly optimistic, especially as I’m unlikely to carry out my threat to take my custom elsewhere; the tapas portions are just too generous. Not to mention the wine helpings.

The Galician government says 95% of the region’s bars have done nothing whatsoever to comply with the anti-smoking legislation that comes into force in 50 days time. They add that, since only a couple of planning applications have been received, it’s inevitable many businesses will be facing fines after September 1. Which is surely true. As to how many of them will pay these, well that’s quite another matter.

The owners of Galicia’s cafés, bars, restaurants and discos have had 7 months to comply with the anti-smoking law of Jan 1. Needless to say, the vast majority of them have done nothing at all. And won’t do anything before the period of grace expires at the end of August. In fact, the local disco owners have demanded, would you believe, a 2 year moratorium. They claim 1. the law is unclear, 2. the local government hasn’t yet brought in its own version and, most expediently, 3. the law is illegal because there’s a ‘clash of competencies’ between the state and regional government. The last one bears out the forecast I made some time ago that the power struggle between the state and the regions would certainly mean money for the lawyers, if nothing else. But, then, everything does.

Under the anti-smoking law introduced in January, all cafés, bars, and restaurants with an area of more 100 square metres have to close off a separate area for smokers. Today’s Voz de Galicia reports that, here in , not a single one of these has complied with the provisions. In fact, in the Pontevedra province only a single restaurant has even bothered to apply for planning permission. As the period of grace ends in three days’ time, things are rather unlikely to change. The Galician government insists it will fine all of them all but we will see. It’s called a meeting today with representatives of affected [disaffected?] owners and this is seen by some as a sign it’s willing to negotiate a compromise. En passant, given this disregard for laws coming from Madrid, it’s pretty easy to guess at the response to those emanating from Brussels. Though the huge subventions coming in this direction are always given a hearty welcome.

It seems the 17 Spanish regions [Autonomous Communities] have taken different approaches to the implementation of January’s ant-smoking laws. Only 3 have ratified the law as it came down – Andalucia, Castile y Léon and Valencia. The rest have applied various degrees of dilution, with Catalunia being the hardest, Madrid the softest and the Basque Country ‘somewhere in the middle’. Depending on where you‘re standing, this is either a pig’s ear or a marvellous example of local democracy in action. Or both, of course. Not that it matters much when the bar, café and restaurant owners take no notice of whatever the law might be, on the usual Spanish grounds that it is personally inconvenient.

Tomorrow is the day on which the Xunta will, they say, start fining the owners of large bars, cafés and restaurants which don’t comply with the anti-smoking laws. Unless, of course, they convert themselves to no-smoking establishments overnight. I will make a few spot checks and report.

According to today’s Voz de Galicia, 6,000 Galician establishments measuring over 100 square metres will have posted No Smoking signs on their doors this morning, to avoid falling foul of the new law and being hit with a 10,000 euro fine. From a quick tour of the centre of Pontevedra today, I can only surmise that – whatever my eyes tell me – there can’t be any places of this size in the whole city. We wait on events. Meanwhile, the local government has said it will be inflexible in the implementation of the law, whilst not actually taking any special measures to check compliance. I’m not sure what message this is intended to send out.

Today’s Voz de Galicia reports that ‘The entry into force of the obligation to physically separate smokers and non-smokers in places of more than 100 square metres passed unnoticed in Galicia.’ But you knew this already, from yesterday’s post.

It’s reported that nicotine levels have fallen an impressive 75% in the work place since January. And in bars, cafés and discos?? Well, would you believe 0%? Of course you would, if you read this blog regularly. Accompanying the report was a photo of the sign on the door of one bar – “In this bar, not only are you allowed to smoke here; you are obliged to”.

Out of the blue, my favourite café has decided to designate the rear of the premises a smoking area, though it’s still a long way off from complying with the regulation that this be closed off. This leaves the main area as a no-smoking zone, including the bar and all the stools. So I will be amazed if this division is respected. But delighted.

Following the introduction of an anti-smoking law last January, cigarette sales have generally fallen throughout Spain this year. This reflects a cessation of smoking in workplaces far more than any reduction in bars, cafés or restaurants. Here in Galicia, though, sales have risen by more than 4%. But this is attributed to border-hopping Portuguese, taking advantage of the fact it’s cheaper to kill yourself here than back home.

Well, despite all the baloney, bravado, bluster and buffoonish calculations of space from the head waiter, I can report that part of my favourite café/bar has now been closed off by a glass partition, creating the no-smoking section we were told would never happen. I suspect the requisite ventilation system hasn’t yet been installed but, nonetheless, I’m both delighted and impressed by this new-found resolve to [almost] obey the law, albeit after a few months delay. This, of course, amounts to nothing in Spain. And, let’s be honest, who cares about smokers choking in their own toxic fumes? Only joking.

Interviewed in one of our local papers, a lady who likes her cigarettes said “This ban on smoking is not fair. I’m not going to pay 100 euros to eat a meal where I’m not allowed to be comfortable.” Stuff the comfort of others, then. But I’m sure her ‘individualistic’ attitude is not representative of smokers in general.

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